First week of the new year, and first day of -30 so far this winter. Really, nothing to gripe about, but if it’s weather and Alaskans are talking about it – well, more times than not, there will be complaints, comments, and reminiscences about the Big Ice Storm of ’10 (or whatever the latest weather event d’jour is) rather than just a mere acknowledgement that yes, like everywhere else on the globe, we have weather.
With the arrival of the first true cold day of this winter this morning, the chickens went onto a 24-7 heat lamp. This winter I have been trying something new. Early in the fall, I decided to be a bit less stingy with the electricity and give the girls (and Gandolf the Rooster) more heat regardless of outside temperature. For all of my other chicken-keeping years – the heat lamp didn’t go on until zero to -10 degrees F. This meant that most times, the coop was pretty chilly: about 35 to 40 at perch-level, definitely in the 20s at the far reaches. Previously, if a heat lamp was on when it was 20 degrees above zero – well in my view that was like leaving the front door open with the heater going full blast: a needless waste of energy. I also had a (half-baked) notion that if I kept the coop relatively cool/cold in its far reaches, it would slow down decomposition of droppings and generally help in keeping eye-watering ammonia fumes at bay. I had also heard (through the coop rumor-mill) that turning on/off heat lamps repeatedly when the bulb was cold would lead to faster bulb demise.
Wrong on all accounts. By putting the heat lamp on a timer, and having it come on four times throughout a 24-hour period even when we hit close to 32 degrees, the coop stayed much, much drier. There was less frost build-up and the troublesome problem of condensation seeping down the walls (which always plagued the coop in outdoor temperatures above 32) never materialized during our Christmas chinook. This in turn led to not only happier chickens (and warmer chickens) but because there was less moisture, the bedding stayed fresher longer and the droppings did not decompose as rapidly. Clean-up of the coop is also much easier – because nothing is frozen to the walls or the boards in the far reaches. I also was surprised at how small an impact there was on my monthly electric bill. For sure, there was an increase, but I estimate it to be about 10$. And of this writing, the bulb is still going strong even though it’s well over a year old.
On a closing note – apologies to all for being AWOL for a considerable period of time. Other work got in the way of the enjoyable task of writing about chickens. The home flock is still going strong – with at least three hens pushing 10. Yes. I know. Most do not keep their layers around into their dotage. Perhaps it is just because it’s sort of interesting to see how long these girls will live when they are safe from predators and get three squares a day.